AARP issues a report to help people advocate for bicycling and walking in the state legislature. "Local officials, community leaders, and planners should use this comprehensive and detailed report to gain an understanding of the current climate for bicyclists and pedestrians in America and to learn how state legislation is working to improve conditions for non-motorized transportation modes."
The federal government is withdrawing its long-standing claim that bicycle helmets prevent 85% of head injuries, in response to a petition filed by WABA under the federal Data Quality Act.
In 1989, a study in Seattle estimated that helmets prevent 85% of head injuries. Efforts to replicate those results during the 1990s confirmed that helmets reduce injuries, but not nearly as much as the Seattle study suggested. Yet public health advocates, government web sites, and the news media have continued to repeat the 85% factoid to the point that it has become a mantra.
Bad information can cause problems, even when it is promoted with the best intentions. If people think that helmets stop almost all head injuries, consumers will not demand better helmets, and legislators may think it makes sense to require everyone to wear one. So we asked two federal agencies to correct the misinformation, and they recently agreed to do so.
How Effective are Bicycle Helmets?
Helmets absorb the shock from a crash. If your head strikes the ground or a vehicle, your brain could be seriously shaken by the sudden deceleration. Helmets should decrease that shaking. The deceleration will be more gradual as your head depresses the foam in the helmet, rather than striking a hard surface. Helmets can also prevent head fractures by spreading the force of the impact, like the difference between being hit on the head by a rock or a beach ball with the same weight.
That’s the theory. But how often do helmets actually prevent head injuries? It’s hard to tell. Experiments on people are unethical. So researchers instead collect hospital data on people involved in bicycle crashes.
In 1989, a team of researchers from Seattle collected data about cyclists who went to area hospitals after a crash. The team was led by Robert S. Thompson, MD, who directed preventive care for the Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound. Only 7% of the cyclists with head injuries wore helmets, but 24% of those without head injuries did wear helmets. Based on a statistical analysis they estimated that helmets had reduced the risk of a head injury by 85%. The study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Doctor Thompson’s study was a “case-control study.” This type of study originally showed the link between smoking and cancer. “Case-control” is a misnomer because there is no true control group. Epidemiologists often say that case-control studies are a good way to show whether something has a good (or bad) effect on health, but not to accurately quantify that effect.
So the fundamental contribution of the Thompson study was to demonstrate that helmets do reduce the risk of head injuries. But public health advocates recognized that the 85% estimate was a good factoid for risk communication: it means that failing to wear a helmet makes you more than 6 times as likely to experience a head injury. Government web sites and newspapers repeated this factoid, to the point where it has become ubiquitous in discussions about bicycle helmets.
Meanwhile, dozens of researchers sought to replicate the Thompson findings in their own communities. They also found that helmets reduce the risk of head injuries. But they found less of a beneficial effects than Dr. Thompson found in Seattle. Some of the studies also found that helmets increase the risk of neck injuries.
In 2001, a review of all published studies found that helmets reduce the risk of head injuries by 45–71%, and increase the risk of neck injuries by 0–86%. That “meta-analysis” was updated in 2011: Helmets reduce head injuries by 25–55%, but because of the increased risk in neck injuries, the combined reduction in head and neck injuries is only 2–26%.
Yet government web sites, public health advocates, and the news media continue to repeat the 85% estimate.
Bicycle safety is one of WABA’s central missions, and we have strongly supported bicycle helmets for the last few decades. We require helmets on all rides that we organize. One of our sponsored projects is the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute (BHSI), which reviews bicycle helmets and encourages improvements in their design. (BHSI raises its own funds, and is not supported by WABA membership dues.)
In the 1990s, we supported proposals to require children under the age of 16 to wear bicycle helmets, which eventually became law.
Thanks to occasional articles in the Washcycle, local cycling advocates have known for years that public health advocates overstate the effectiveness of helmets. But with all the ways by which drivers and cyclists misunderstand each other while navigating the roads, helmet effectiveness has not ranked high in our list of misconceptions to fix.
That changed this year. The Maryland Department of Transportationsupported the mandatory helmet bill, based on the web site of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which says that helmets prevent 85% of head injuries. An article in the Washington Post questioned why cyclists opposed the mandatory helmet bill, and stated that helmets prevent 80% of head injuries, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The mandatory helmet law was promoted by people who were relying on incorrect information on federal agency web sites.
As we prepared our testimony on the bill, we realized that most helmet research has been focused on making helmets cool, rather than more protective. Better ventilation and more fashionable designs might encourage more people to buy and wear helmets, but it does not make someone safer. Could that be because everyone is assuming that helmets are already 85% effective?
If people thought that helmets are less than 50% effective, might there be a greater focus on what really matters—a better helmet?
WABA pushed agencies to correct the misinformation
Last February, I sent emails to both CDC and NHTSA, pointing out that the 85% estimate is incorrect, and providing citations to newer research. A few weeks later, CDC thanked me for pointing out the new research. I spoke with an epidemiologist over the phone, who told me that CDC would remove the error. She confirmed the conversation in a letter.
NHTSA staff told me that they were too busy to discuss the matter. That led us to conclude that a more formal request would be necessary: The Data Quality Act requires information on federal web sites to be accurate and supported by appropriate research. So I asked NHTSA to provide the underlying documentation. NHTSA confirmed that the 85% figure was based on the Thompson study.
On March 15, we sent our formal “request for correction” asking NHTSA to either remove the statement that helmets are 85% effective, or revise the quantitative estimate so that it accurately reflects the published literature. 
(Jim Titus is on WABA’s Board of Directors, a resident of Prince George’s County, and an occasional contributor to The Washcycle. This article was reprinted from WABA's web site; in this article "we" refers to WABA.)
We also asked NHTSA to support its claim that helmets are “the single most effective to prevent head injury resulting from a bicycle crash”, but it was unable to do so.
Our petition also asked NHTSA to “delete all statements … asserting that wearing a helmet is the single most effective way (or device) to prevent a head injury, unless this claim has been substantiated by a peer-reviewed study showing that helmets are more effective than other ways or devices for preventing head injuries.”
NHTSA did not, however, agree to our request that the agency either substantiate or remove the claim that “wearing a helmet is the single most effective way (or device) to prevent a head injury.” NHTSA said that WABA had not met its burden of proof. Evidently, WABA and NHTSA disagree on whether NHTSA is required to provide at least one study showing its statement to be correct, before WABA would be required to show the statement to be wrong. We are thinking about whether to appeal.
The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority recently announced the list of proposed transportation projects to be funded under the Commonwealth's new transportation bill. They'll have an open house on that list on June 20th beginning at 5:30 p.m. at the Council Chambers at City Hall in the City of Fairfax, 10455 Armstrong Street, Fairfax, VA. The Open House will be followed by a presentation and the Public Hearing.
Projects of interest to those who bike in Northern Virginia include, but are not limited to
Columbia Pike Multimodal Street Improvements – FY14 Construction Start
Boundary Channel Drive Interchange – FY14 Construction Start
Crystal City Multi-Modal Center – FY14 Design Complete/Construction Start
Pedestrian Access to Transit (Falls Church) - FY14 Design Complete
Pedestrian Bridge at Van Buren Street (Falls Church) - FY14 Design Complete [Not sure what this is - a bridge over Van Buren at Four Mile Run?]
W&OD Trail Lighting connecting to East Falls Church Metro Station – FY14 Design Complete/Construction Start
That's out of 33 projects. There are only 3 that are specifically bike/ped related, but that's 3 too many for some people, because last week Virginia House Delegate Jim LeMunyon (R-Farifax) said that "funding for bus shelters, pedestrian bridge and lighting on a trail. That’s not why I voted to raise taxes."
FABB notes that the list is based on the TransAction2040 report (which contains many other projects too) so if anyone thought it ran afoul of the vision for transportation then they weren't paying attention to what the official vision was. And did LeMunyon really vote on a transportation bill that he thought wouldn't include bicycle and pedestrian projects?
In contrast, at the same meeting,
Arlington County Board Chair Walter Tejada jumped in with “a word in support of trails,” saying that “in densely populated areas, our bike lanes and trails become increasingly critical.” He cited Arlington bike counts that are “off the charts – thousands and thousands, especially in warmer months.” He says his county will continue to focus on trails and lighting which are “important in urban setting. Imagine all those thousands of people in cars.”
the National Building Museum's Intelligent Cities Initiative..notes that the reduced use of autos in DC has resulted in $128,275,000 being retained in the local economy each year. In Portland, Oregon, residents drive 20% less than other US cities which adds up to $1.1 billion of savings each year equalling 1.5% of the total personal income earned in the region, which is then spent mainly on local recreation, entertainment, food and drink.
the BOS and FCDOT will need to devote what looks like a disproportionately large amount of money to bicycle and pedestrian projects and staff because there will be no other funding from the state, while copious funds for roads projects will be forthcoming from "the 70%" that the NVTA will distribute for regional projects that "reduce congestion and increase capacity.
The warm weather is causing something to emerge and it's not cicadas according to ABC7, it's bike thieves.
Shout it from the rooftops: "People who walk or bike to work are likely to influence their co-workers and partners to do the same, according to health researchers....married people were more likely to participate in AC than non-married people, men actively commuted (AC) more often than women and mothers were even less likely to actively commute....People who were comfortable with their bicycling skills were more likely to actively commute, as were those who believed they had a shorter biking or walking time to work. Believing that an employer supports active commuting and working for an employer who supports AC, living in a community that supports AC and believing that the community is supportive of pedestrians and bicyclists were all positively significantly related to active commuting. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the researchers found that lack of on-street bike lanes, off-street bike and walking paths, and sidewalks all negatively influenced active commuting. Difficult terrain, bad weather and the speed and volume of traffic along the commuting route were also significantly related to people deciding to not actively commute."
"the researchers concluded that head injuries were decreasing across the country at a rate that wasn't "appreciably altered" by the new helmet laws. Other rider health initiatives — namely, public safety campaigns and the introduction of better bike infrastructure — rendered the contribution of helmet laws "minimal"
NYC to ban e-bikes. '“E-bikes are a danger to New Yorkers because they’re faster and heavier than regular bikes. They also have very quiet motors. So, you don’t always hear them coming,” Quinn said Thursday.' Y'know what else is faster and heavier than regular bikes?
Sarah Goodyear of the Atlantic has an article for Bike to Work Week entitled "Cyclists Aren't 'Special', and They Shouldn't Play by Their Own Rules." The thesis seems to be that now that cycling is mainstream, cyclists need to behave better. I would argue that whether or not cycling is mainstream you need to ride safely and courteously. In fact, an increase or decrease in cycling mode share shouldn't change the way you ride one iota.
Goodyear is asking cyclists to become footdroppers and thinks that more enforcement of cycling laws is what is needed for cycling to "get to the next level." I disagree which is easy to do since Goodyear offers no evidence, no data and no defence of her position. It appears to be 100% emotion-based opinion.
When I look at great cycling cities in Europe it doesn't appear to me that there is some point where increased enforcement is needed to keep growth going. Growth is fueled by better designed streets, laws that protect cyclists and increasing the costs of driving. If anything, what I've read about Amsterdam and Copenhagen is that they don't tolerate the kinds of bad driving that are considered normal here. I don't read about ticketing blitzes.
She makes the point that many cyclists are rude or ride dangerously and that she'd like to see such behavior ticketed. I have no problem with ticketing dangerous behavior - though if we're really going to focus on the MOST dangerous behavior, that will rarely mean ticketing cyclists. And if law enforcement were to blitz cyclsits, it would likely not be for their most dangerous behavior (riding at night without lights or too fast on the sidewalk or against traffic) but rather not coming to a complete stop at a stop sign during a charity ride or at some out-of-the way intersection.
Writing about wrong-way cycling she adds
It makes all of us look terrible and it’s a real hazard. Same goes for blowing through a stop sign or red light, or blocking the crosswalk when you’re impatiently waiting for the light to change. Not to mention shouting at pedestrians to get out of the way when they are crossing legally. I saw someone yell at an old lady the other day.
I again assert that few cyclists actually "blow through" stop signs and lights. Yes, cyclists run them - even Goodyear - but not blowing through them.
She sees herself as an ambassador. But does anyone see themselves as a pedestrian ambassador when walking or as a driving ambassador when driving? No. Biking is not foreign, and maybe to "get to the next level" we need to stop presenting it as though it is. It is funny that she sees it this way, that she has to behave hyper-legally and as a role model only to follow it up with.
you’re going to have to give up your identity as a special person who does some special activity known as cycling.
You’re not so special any longer
Ok, if I'm not so special any longer, then how come I have to behave differently - squeaky clean - than everyone else?
I agree that cyclists should be safe and courteous (because I think EVERYONE should be), but not that they need to be hyper-legal in the hope that it will soothe everyone else. Because it won't. And it won't take cycling to the next level.
What will help is changing the law where it currently doesn't make sense, such as with the Idaho Stop - exactly the kind of "Special Treatment" and "own rules" that Goodyear seems to be arguing against. What will help is treating cycling as special by creating special facilities to help them get around - like bi-directional cycletracks on one-way streets or cycle-tracks. What will help is bike sharing, on street bike parking, unique zoning regulations related to bike parking, special commuter benefits for bike commuters, etc...
We're going to have to treat cyclists better and let them play by their own rules if we want to "get ot the next level."
Is it fair if bikers get benefits when motorists don’t? Nope. You know what else isn’t fair? Everything. Deal with it.